Paul Thomas Anderson’s ode to the Everyman soldier certainly wasn’t the easiest film to love. In fact, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of former sailor and certifiable screw-up Freddie Quell was downright disturbing. Yet, there was something mysterious and beautiful looming beneath the frames of this Scientology-inspired story.
Anderson scratches at our inherent divinity, while at the same time drowning us in our innate need for escapism via lust, drugs, alcohol and simplified decryptions of the existential condition.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the self-indulgent and entirely narcissistic spiritual leader who attempts to save Freddie with his mystic spiel. And Phoenix proves the perfect foil as a man who cannot overcome his self-loathing and substance addiction, no matter how much tough love he receives from his surrogate “father.”
With Amy Adams playing the exasperated wife — and the only pragmatic soul in the picture — Anderson creates an entire universe through three characters. We may not have any idea what the bigger picture means, but then again, that only makes it a more accurate take on facing the banal chaos of everyday existence.
It could have been a very unpleasant ride, but thanks to the stunning cinematography from Mihai Malaimare Jr., we achieve safe, voyeuristic distance to the denouement.
Special features include Let There Be Light, John Huston’s 1946 documentary about the men who served in the Second World War and their attempt to re-integrate into postwar society, outtakes, deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage and more.
Three and a half stars
There are a whole lot of cute moments in this Disney animated effort about a video game villain who longs to be a hero, but there isn’t enough screen magic to overcome a jaded sense of deja-vu.
John C. Reilly is highly sympathetic as he voices Ralph, a force of destruction who tries to keep Fix-It Felix from maintaining his brick apartment building. When he realizes he’s doomed by his own code string, he attempts to jump out of his own game — with dire consequences.
While this could be read as a social metaphor about revolting against the status quo, the movie can’t go any deeper than one-liners and adult-oriented allusions to pop psychology and support groups. Not even Sarah Silverman is capable of getting past the plastic script and injecting some real blood into this highly attractive, and frequently entertaining piece of fluff.
Special features include the Oscar-winning short Paperman, Bit By Bit featurette on the making-of, alternate and deleted scenes, video game commercials, Disney intermission and more.
Three and a half stars
Though edged out of the Academy Awards by Amour, this French film about a man in a wheelchair and his problematic care attendant was easily one of the year’s feel-good films. Phrased more like a romantic comedy than a buddy-bonding spectacle, the film begins with the two men hating one another, but gradually turns around as they share their vulnerabilities and deepest thoughts over montage-friendly scenes such as paragliding to ’70s soul music and long walks on the beach.
Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy play the two central characters with such joy and grit, it’s hard to resist their awkward male dynamic, even when the movie feels dangerously close to treacle. Special features include deleted scenes and more.
We saw a lot of movies about alien invasions in the wake of the Cold War, but this movie doesn’t feel any obligation to veil the threat in an extraterrestrial carapace. Red Dawn is a movie about an invasion by something truly old-fashioned: Commies!
North Korea — with the tacit aid of Russia and China — goes on the offensive in the good old U.S.A., forcing a ragtag group of kids led by Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson to stand up to the enemy using nothing but their wits and the odd assault rifle.
It looks like any other piece of Cold War fearmongering, but in the wake of America’s occupation of Iran and Afghanistan, Red Dawn assumes a slightly different dimension as young blue-eyed kids suddenly become “insurgents” and “terrorists” against the oppressing regime.
Slightly more than you bargained for, Red Dawn offers a fascinating film study in the big-screen treatment of the terrorist versus freedom-fighter phenomenon. Special features include Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and more.
Though self-aware, and at times a little stagy, actor-turned-director Martin Donovan turns in a pretty compelling motion picture about two men who grew up together, and eventually grew worlds apart.
With Donovan taking on the role of a failing writer looking for another hit and David Morse embodying the spirit of a self-loathing failure who owns a gun, the movie unfolds like a slow mental striptease as the two male characters sitting centre-frame slowly expose their inner truth.
An intellectual exercise in psychological suspense as well as manly ritual, Donovan’s film successfully denudes the layers of denial that stop us from reaching our dreams. It’s also dryly funny and beautifully performed, proving you can make a dramatic dent with limited means and a low budget. Special features include digital transfer and more.
SCHINDLER’S LIST: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Steven Spielberg had his big Oscar night? Winner of best picture and best director honours in 1994 (though the film was released in 1993), this story based on Oskar Schindler’s attempt to save Jews through employment featured Liam Neeson as the accidental saviour and Ralph Fiennes as the relentless SS officer eager to prove him a traitor to the Fatherland.
These two performances are so innately elegant in their emotional minimalism that Spielberg doesn’t even have to use strings and symphonies to articulate the desperation of war, but he still does — which is about the only downside to this ambitious and somewhat sentimental look at the horrors of the Holocaust.
This new anniversary edition features new extras, including a documentary from the University of California, Santa Cruz Shoah Foundation as well as a Spielberg-hosted featurette and iWitness information segment.
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